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Gangs of London Recap: Kill or Be Killed

Gangs of London

Episode 2
Season 1 Episode 3
Editor’s Rating 4 stars

Gangs of London

Episode 2
Season 1 Episode 3
Editor’s Rating 4 stars
Photo: AMC/SKY

Remember when Lale called Sean Wallace a child, and Luan said he was the type of boy to burn London to the ground to prove that he was a man? Both of those judgments turn out to be prescient in this third episode of Gangs of London. How many people does Sean personally kill at the end of this episode during the attack on the travelers’ camp? A few? A dozen? Is this really what will help Sean feel like a man, the embodiment of his father Finn’s legacy, and worthy of sitting in his big leather chair? Or is Sean the kind of heir — raised in fear and trained in brutality — for which nothing will ever be enough?

We’re seeing the cracks in Sean’s rule already. The reality is that the Dumanis don’t seem to respect Sean very much, and to be honest, he hasn’t exactly earned their trust. There’s whatever secret deal Alex has going with Nasir Afridi, which is allowing Nasir and his father Asif access to the ports. If they’re not running drugs — since Sean had called for a ban on that since his father’s death, and the heroin drought in the city is exactly what Lale takes advantage of — what are they doing? Lale’s hit on the Afridi family drug pipeline through cows that come to the U.K. by way of Turkey is such a huge deal that Asif himself comes to London to confront Sean, although he didn’t bother making the trip for Finn’s funeral. The loss of 5 million pounds is no joke, and Asif could very easily become an enemy for Sean. It’s only been a week of Sean stepping up, and the 30 years of power Finn held over the city is close to unraveling. The only person who genuinely thinks Sean is doing a good job so far is his mother Marian, and well, I’m not entirely sure her hands are clean of her husband’s murder!

This third episode of Gangs of London begins with a flashback: During their sons’ early teen years, Finn and Marian took Sean and Billy out to their family cabin — not for a vacation, but for a test. The story the parents told their sons: They were going rabbit hunting. The reality: A man was buried in the ground up to his neck. He was bloody and pleading for his life. And if Sean could kill him, Finn said, he was ready for the family business. “We are born into a certain world. It’s chosen for us, fated. Some might think it’s brutal. I say it’s glorious. If you can do this one thing, you can have all that it has to offer,” Finn rhapsodizes. I’m not sure what is most tragic here: how enthralled Sean is by his father and how tortured he looks when he can’t pull the rifle trigger; Marian’s hovering and how she tries to help Sean by having Finn cover the man’s head with a bucket (actress Michelle Fairley especially brings to mind the rigidity and inflexibility of her Catelyn Stark performance this episode); or Billy stepping in to help his brother by taking the shot for him and then walking away.

So far in their adult lives, Billy has seemed like the weak one: addicted to heroin, lying in Marian’s lap, uninvolved in the family business. He’s the Fredo to Sean’s Sonny Corleone, or the Luke to Steven Crain, or the Ben Davis to Wendy Byrde. But Billy in this episode proves that he’s more than we initially expected and made of weightier stuff. He protected Sean in their childhood. He tracks down the heroin that he sees being done at the orgy he attends (as you do) and realizes that it was Lale and the Kurdish faction who hit the truck carrying Asif’s cows, stole the heroin from inside, and then distributed the drugs within London and outside of Sean’s decree. He proves his value — and yet Sean refuses his help.

And Sean isn’t wrong! Billy is an addict. The Wallace family business is mostly drugs. There is no way to reconcile that. The brothers’ “I don’t want you to die” embrace in their father’s office was a beautifully vulnerable moment and a reminder that despite this show’s love affair with horrendous scenes of grotesque violence, it is ultimately about tribalism and about the lengths we’ll go to protect our own. Sean is doing all he can to protect Billy. Billy is doing all he can to protect Sean. Expand that outward and everyone here is operating to protect someone they love. Ed is protecting Finn’s memory, keeping his secrets by staging Jack’s suicide in the last episode and this week meeting with Luan to learn about an unknown deal between Finn and the Albanians. What did those pictures that Luan slid over show? Alex is protecting the Dumani family name, going all Stringer Bell by studying business, keeping the books clean, and not taking the evils of the Wallace organization that seriously when nearly every rich person at a certain level has blood on their hands. “Everything’s a front,” Alex says, and of course, we know this to be true for Alex himself, too. Doesn’t it seem like he’s eventually going to turn on Sean and try to take the Wallace organization crown for himself?

This Sean versus the Dumanis division is starkest when the three are arguing over what to do about Darren, who they now know killed Finn. Kinney, who we saw ferrying Darren out of London at the end of the second episode, pleads with Sean for his son’s life: “You kill Darren and you change nothing,” he insists. He hands over the cellphone Darren used. And yet Sean isn’t pleased, and he’s unwilling to yield, and the fact that Darren’s phone is encrypted and Sean’s men haven’t yet found the teenager set him off. That attack — slaughter, truly — in the travelers’ camp was unnecessarily over the top (strong True Detective season two shoot-out vibes), and I’m not sure that kind of blunt force is going to win Sean any new followers. Ed certainly wasn’t pleased. Kinney, who had to punch out the bottom of his trailer home to escape, lost dozens of people in his community. Even Sean looked dazed at the scale of violence they committed and the number of men and women they killed. The only person who looked utterly nonplussed was Marian, and again, I ask: What’s her endgame?

I haven’t yet mentioned Elliot, who after taking center stage in last week’s episode doesn’t fade into the background here but takes a bit of a step back. Unlike everyone he’s investigating, he doesn’t seem to have familial connection to the Wallaces or a personal vendetta against them — unless his wife Naomi and his son Samuel, who we hear mentioned in his debrief with the police psychologist, were somehow affected. Perhaps Naomi’s death two years ago was the impetus for Elliot going undercover? But note also that Elliot is spinning a variety of lies here. His police handler Vicky knows about the traveler men he killed during that cleaver showdown, but the Wallaces don’t. Elliot’s flirting with Shannon might open him up to unnecessary risk. That Wallace enforcer Mark has never liked Elliot, and that might be a problem. Elliot has secured Sean’s trust, but for how long can he keep it?

As Long As You Comply

• This episode’s best shot: Sean’s reflection in that pool of Jack’s blood.

• This episode’s best line delivery: Asif Raza Mir’s chilling “Believe me, if they were to kill my son, I would wipe out their bloodline. But I would not lose a rupee in that. Be smart, Sean.” Runner-up: Also Mir, with his amused “You’ve got his temper.”

• RIP to that takeout container of shawarma that Elliot stabbed.

• Speaking of the Afridis, I’m curious how Nasir expects to keep his hands clean while running for mayor of London. This whole “various gangs killing each other and doing nefarious shit” thing seems pretty well-known throughout the city, doesn’t it?

• How long until Shannon and Elliot hook up? I give it … two episodes.

• I really enjoy Colm Meaney, but post-Star Trek, he definitely fell into a certain kind of asshole typecasting, didn’t he?

• Lale’s speedboat drug drop-off made me want to watch Michael Mann’s Miami Vice, a perfect piece of cinema.

• I did not expect to ever see a cattle gun pop up again as a human-killing weapon after No Country for Old Men, but here we are. Still as gross as when Anton Chigurh used it.

• The guy harassing Alex at the bar from Jamie Foxx’s “Blame It (On the Alcohol)” music video had strong SNL “Guy Who Just a Bought a Boat” vibes. Alex Moffat, was that you?

Gangs of London Recap: Kill or Be Killed